Growing up in Michigan, I never understood why people liked skiing. We got plenty of snow, and there were some decent ski slopes way up north. But all I wanted to do in winter was go somewhere warm. It never made sense to me to drive somewhere even colder only to throw myself down a mountain in the snow. Then about 10 years ago, I went skiing for the first time in Lake Tahoe. On one of my runs down the hill, and woman skied by me wearing a cowboy hat and a bikini. In that exact moment, I got it. Skiing was a good thing. It was sunny and beautiful. The lake was pristine. And when it got dark, you could literally ski down the mountain and into a casino. Ladies and gentleman, Lake Tahoe.
On my latest trip to the snow (as they say in California), I went with about 15 former classmates from business school.
The drive from San Francisco
is a bit of a crap shoot, the major variables being traffic and weather. It's taken me as little as 3 hours and as long as 12 before. Traffic was bad, but the weather was mercifully good so we made it in just over five. We stayed in South Lake Tahoe
(the California side) at our friend TC's house. It's a ski vacation and entertainment palace, sleeping 12 comfortably. Life has apparently been good to TC. The scene was a throwback to grad school, a bunch of thirty somethings pretending to be college kids again. It was right up my alley.
We skied at Kirkwood
, which I had never been to before.
Me in front of Caesar's
It's a smaller resort, catering to beginners and advanced skiers. No bikinis this time, but the weather was still warm enough that I never felt cold. My skills are a bit shaky but I still found some nice runs that I could handle. The snow was icy, not the fresh powder that we had hoped for. Kirkwood itself was a pleasant break from larger resorts such as Heavenly. There were 20+ lifts, taking you to a wide variety of slopes. It also caters to snow boarders who seemed to be whizzing by me on all sides. You have to drive a little out of the way to get there, but that keeps the crowds down. If the weather is bad though, it can be a nightmare to get to. TC just missed getting caught in an avalanche the last time he went. I was exhausted by the end of the day so I rewarded myself with a bloody mary (naturally) back in the ski lodge.
Caught in a blizzard at Heavenly in '03
One of my favorite aspects of skiing is the people watching. There is a definite skiing sub-culture, having its own unique fashion, booze, and lingo. The sport tends to attract laid-back, free spirits. But the action itself is anything but laid back. Challenging slopes can be as intense as anything in sports. A perfect illustration of this contrast was the snowboarder I watched tear down the mountain only to plop himself into a chair and say the following to his friend: "dude..I would've gone to the casino last night but I was so f___ing stoned". All this within earshot of a mother lacing up her two young children's ski boots. Ah..Lake Tahoe. What's not to love?
We stayed back at the house all night, too tired to hit the casinos. After an expertly prepared meal and countless bottles of wine, we ended up playing Monopoly.
The lake itself
If you don't like Monopoly, then you would really hate playing with a bunch of MBAs. If there is one thing we know, it's money. So the combination of a group of Type A personalities, fake money, and alcohol made for a lethal combination. The horse trading, side deals, blackmail, and bribery began almost immediately. I could simply not believe the greed (well, actually I could). In the end, the only non-MBA among us ended up winning, resulting in much bitterness and excuse-making the next morning at breakfast.
The drive back from Tahoe is one of my favorites, downhill most of the way through mountains and pine trees. My last trip up, I stopped several times to snap pictures. Tahoe being so close is one of the reasons people love the Bay Area. We got back to the city in about 3 hours flat and it was 70 degrees. People say you could ski and surf in the same day in California. This was one of those days where you actually could have.